Science Questions

What is the gallbladder for?

Tue, 17th May 2016

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Question

Ruth asked:

I have to have an operation to have my gallbladder out, but what is it and will I notice when it's gone?

Answer

Chris Smith lent us his expertise to answer this question...A pair of cheeseburgers

Chris - Well the gallbladder is a small bag which is attached to your bile duct or your biliary tree which comes off your liver.  So the gallbladder sits underneath the liver. The common reason why people have the gall bladder removed is because the develop gallstones and these produce a symptom called capillary colic.

Classically people complain of a pain at the right upper part of their tummy after or around the time that theyíre eating a very fatty meal. Now this is because the gallbladder stores bile. The liver makes bile and it secretes the bile into the biliary tree, the bile runs down the bile ducts, drains into the gallbladder, which opens up, relaxes and fills with this bile. Bile consists of bile salts and cholesterol and things called phospholipids, and these are chemicals that are stored in the gallbladder temporarily and then used when you eat a fatty meal to come out into the small intestine through your bile duct, and mix with the fats and break them up or emulsify them into lots of small droplets that your digestive juices can more easily act on.

But because the bile is full of these fatty materials, sometimes they can form stones and these stones build up like gravel in the gallbladder and they can block the neck of the gallbladder, so that when it tries to contract and expel the bile instead a stone can get stuck in the neck and it makes it very painful, and this is the biliary colic.

Surgeons, when a patient presents with these symptoms and they diagnose gallstone disease go in, usually with cameras, which are put in through one or two small holes in the abdomen and then they remove the gallbladder just using these telescopes - itís called laparoscopic surgery. Itís very safe, itís very effective at relieving the symptoms and, usually, patients have absolutely no symptoms afterwards that their gallbladder has been removed. The biliary tree has enough capacity to store enough bile so that, as long as you donít overdo it on eating a fatty meal, you shouldnít even notice that youíve no longer got you gallbladder, apart from not having the gallstones any more.

So, I hope that gives you some reassurance Ruth, and good luck.

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